Why did so many, from the kings of Ireland to the patricians in Roman Italy, love these dogs? They’re as large as a man, have a noble face and bearing, are highly intelligent, and are known for their gentle temperament. This last surprised me, because they were bred to kill wolves (which they did, in great numbers, in Ireland) and to kill men in battle (it’s said they would clamp their jaws around an enemy soldier’s neck and rip his head off).
Only the very rich could afford them. For about a millennia, the going rate for one of these dogs was more than the going rate for a human slave, even though the life span of one of these dogs is only about six to eight years. Even today, they’re one of the more expensive breeds to buy, and one of the more expensive to own.
Some random information I dug up while researching them: These dogs don’t like prolonged swimming. Their joints can get damaged if they don’t have cushy things to lie on– all that weight on a hard surface is no good for them. They’re loyal to their owners, but are too friendly to make good watchdogs. They’ll dart after small prey like squirrels and cats that might wander into their yards. They need a good, long walk at least once every day.
I suspect that Thomas did some surreptitious (i.e., illegal, at least during his own time) genetic work to create Sheba– or, rather, he contracted with someone else to do this work for him. The main features he wanted were 1) ability to track the heroine, and 2) longevity. He ordered up a biological asset, but the puppy that was delivered was a gentle beast that he grew to love, in his own muddled way.
For an interesting historical read (especially as concerns the use of these dogs in warfare, and their relationship with St. Patrick’s escape from slavery) see: Irish Wolf Hounds